Sunday, July 15, 2012

The ram: The God-provided substitute

“Abraham! Abraham!” came the voice from heaven.

Abraham froze. “Here I am,” he replied. The voice continued, “Do not harm the boy! Now I know that you fear God, for you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Abraham quickly put down the knife. His hands were shaking so badly, and his vision was so tear-blurred, that he didn't trust himself to cut the ropes. So he unbound Isaac, slowly, by hand, one knot at a time.

As he raised his head from his work, Abraham saw a form in the thicket. He approached cautiously. It was a ram! The brambles and thorns were wrapped so tightly around its horns that it had become trapped there.

Abraham whispered a prayer of thanksgiving as killed the ram. Then he cut the wreath of thorns from its head, pulled it from the brier, placed it on the altar. He laid the animal where Isaac had lain just minutes earlier. He prepared the body. He lit the wood.

Later, father and son sat side by side watching the sacrifice burn. They were silent as their eyes ran the trail of smoke that ascended into the heavens. Then Abraham swept his hand in a manner to include everything around him: the altar, the sacrifice, the mountain, the land beyond, the stars, Isaac. “The Lord will provide,” he said.

As they were traveling to the mountain God had chosen, Isaac noticed that something was missing. “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb we are going to offer?” he asked. Abraham replied, “The Lord will provide for Himself the lamb.”

And Abraham was correct; God did. At the last moment, Isaac was spared. He was removed from the altar, and the substitute God had provided took his place. Genesis 22:13 highlights the substitutionary nature of this change by noting that the ram was offered instead of Isaac.

Yet the ram was not the lamb Abraham was anticipating. While the promised lamb would be provided, it would be many generations before Abraham's descendants would hear John the Baptist proclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world!”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus was the fulfillment of Abraham's prophecy. God provided a substitute. Jesus did not take the place of an innocent victim, but of guilty sinners. He would not only die for Isaac, but for me and you. For us.

(Genesis 22, Romans 5:6-8)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Isaac: The son who was spared

“The Lord will provide,” Abraham said quietly. Whether he said it to convince himself, or his son lying bound on the stones in front of him, he wasn't sure.

He took a deep breath. There was the altar that he had built, laying stone upon stone, with the wood spread out on top. Wood his son had carried up the mountain. He had made many such altars, had offered many sacrifices. The wood was arranged so that the fire would catch quickly and the wind blowing over the mountain top would quickly feed the flame. And consume the offering.

“Father,” Isaac had asked, “We have fire and wood, but where is the lamb we are going to offer?” Abraham had replied, “The Lord will provide for Himself the lamb.” He had been so certain. He had been sure that Isaac wouldn't die. Or if he did, Abraham knew that God would have to raise him from the dead. So many promises were bound up in the boy.

But with the knife in his hand, he was no longer so confident. He surveyed the scene one final time for some sign of deliverance. He found none.

Closing his eyes, he raised the knife. “The Lord will provide,” he prayed.

“Abraham! Abraham!” came the voice from heaven.

Abraham was asked by God to do the unthinkable. He was told to take his son Isaac and to offer him as a mountain top sacrifice. Isaac was his only child with Sarah. He was the miracle baby, born to parents ninety and one hundred years old. He was the son that Abraham loved above all others. He was also the vessel through which God had promised great blessing would flow. It was through Isaac that Abraham's descendants would become a great nation. They would outnumber the dust of the earth, the sand on the seashore, the stars in the heavens. It was through Isaac that every nation would be blessed.

God asked Abraham to take this son and to sacrifice him. By faith, Abraham obeyed. But at the last moment, as the knife was raised, a voice spoke from heaven. Isaac was delivered.

This scene would replay itself many years later. Like Isaac, Jesus would climb a mountain, and there submit himself to the will of the Father. He would offer himself up as a sacrifice. But unlike Calvary, there would be no last minute deliverance. There would be no voice from heaven. Jesus would not be spared. There would be no substitute. Jesus himself was the substitute.

(Genesis 22)